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By Tim Hunt

Permanent transportation tax should be rejected

Uploaded: Jan 2, 2012

Alameda County elected officials and transportation advocates have been negotiating the projects to be included when they ask voters to extend the county's half-cent sales tax surcharge for a third time.
Public attention has been focused on the project list and Livermore's efforts to get $400 million allocated to the extension to Livermore. The first half-cent sales tax measure, passed with a two-thirds vote in 1986, provided critical funding to get BART extended to Dublin/Pleasanton.
The county transportation authority brought a second measure back before voters and got it reauthorized it before its scheduled expiration in 2001. Now advocates are planning to double the tax to 1-cent and make it permanent. That's terrible precedent, both the doubling and making the tax permanent.
Alameda County residents already pay one of the highest sales tax rate in the state thanks to the one-half cent surcharge for the county hospital, the half-cent surcharge for transportation and the half-cent surcharge for BART (effective in BART counties).
Making the tax permanent would eliminate the accountability that the transportation agency has had since its inception because both the elected officials and the staff knew they would have to face voters for the extension. Does that make a difference?
Consider BART, which has a permanent tax and a directly elected board (which makes it a bit more responsive to the public than the county agency, which is made up of elected officials who serve on a regional agency.
Despite being in a business that uses capital equipment (trains and rails), BART has no fund for equipment replacement—it is simply put a hand out and hope the feds come through or turn to the voters again. And, of course, thanks to the strong unions and union-favoring directors, BART salaries and benefits are among the best in the nation.
But, when the sales tax is permanent, the agency never faces the voters. The transportation authority is grabbing for that same status and simultaneously trying to double the tax. I have supported the transportation sales tax surcharge twice, despite too much focus on operating subsidies for inefficient agencies such as AC Transit. The current plan allocates 60 percent of the funds to operations. The sharp economic downtown is expected to reduce the available funds by about 30 percent by 2020.
The reason: delivering key projects such as BART to Dublin/Pleasanton, the Isabel/Interstate 580 interchange and improvements to Highway 84 and the flyover ramp from I-680 to I-580 even if they built the wrong connection (it should have been westbound I-580 to southbound I-680). The current project list includes some key projects such as the very overdue widening of Highway 84 between Livermore and Sunol as well as a number of I-580 projects.
Negotiations on the final project list are ongoing with the authority set to vote on it this month. Take the time to let your elected officials know they're grabbing for too much money and becoming permanent is non-starter as an idea. If they pursue it, it should be rejected.
Incidentally, both of the valley supervisors—Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley—sit on that board along with mayors Tim Sbranti (Dublin), John Marchand (Livermore) and Jennifer Hosterman (Pleasanton).